‘A terrible tragedy’: Upminster rail worker who died after being struck by train was likely ‘fatigued’
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An Upminster rail worker who died after being hit by a train was “fatigued” and likely covering for his brother at the time of the incident, an official government report into the tragedy concluded.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) issued a report on Thursday, July 11, calling for the railway industry to stop using "Victorian methods" of protection for its workers after the 37-year-old man was struck by a train at Stoats Nest Junction, near Purley in November 6 last year.
According to the report, the rail worker's brother asked him to forge his signature and cover his night shift.
The man from Upminster agreed and began his shift at around 10.50pm.
His job was to place equipment on the track to protect the line for overnight engineering works.
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At around 12.28am he was walking with his back to the train on an unprotected stretch of track when he was struck by a Southern train from London Victoria to Three Bridges.
The driver sounded his horn and applied the emergency brake but the train, which was travelling about 69 mph, struck the man and he died instantly.
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RAIB concluded that the railway worker likely believed that no trains would approach on the line and that he was "probably fatigued" while working.
The investigation branch believes that he only had three and a half hours sleep in the last 24 hours.
A phone call with a colleague revealed that the 37-year-old was concerned about being caught "ghosting" by covering for his brother.
RAIB is recommending that Network Rail improve the way it manages risks associated with the use of workers on zero hours contracts.
It also recommends that Vital Human Resources Ltd, the labour supplier, commission an independent review of the actions it has taken following the incident and that it assesses its effectiveness in reducing the risks of fatigue.
Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: "This sad accident was the first in more than four years involving the death of a track worker who was struck by a train.
"When workers are employed on a casual basis on zero hours contracts, there can be great pressure for them to try and juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.
"The possible effects of such patterns of employment on fatigue and fitness for work are significant."
Following a fatality in Reading in 2007 and a near-miss in north London, in 2017, RAIB suggested the railway industry should find ways of eliminating the need for people to be exposed to the risk of being struck by trains in these circumstances.
The chief inspector added: "The continuing requirement for people to go onto the track to place and remove red lamps and explosive detonators, as part of the arrangements for protecting engineering work on the railway, is something that RAIB has queried before.
"I believe that the industry should continue to explore ways of eliminating the need for Victorian methods of protection on the twenty-first century railway.
"It is deeply saddening that another person has died while putting down protection for his fellow railway workers- there must be a better way."
Sam Chessex, acting route managing director of Network Rail's south east route, said: "The incident at Stoats Nest was a terrible tragedy involving a member of the railway family.
"Network Rail has implemented a number of initiatives over recent years to help frontline staff better manage fatigue risk, and just yesterday launched a track worker safety task force to deliver speedier progress in improving railway safety.
"Network Rail does not offer zero-hour contracts, and our code of conduct sets out what we expect from suppliers to keep workers safe. As a result of this incident we are reviewing our standards and our supplier practices to ensure they are focused on contractor safety.
"Our thoughts will always remain with the friends and family of our colleague who lost his life."
A spokeswoman from Vital Human Resources Ltd, added: "The health and safety of our workforce is our main priority and a core value within our business, and as a result, we implement robust and detailed measures designed to prevent incidents like this from ever happening.
"Events such as these highlight the risks associated with working on the railway and reinforce the huge importance of what we do in managing the health and safety of our rail workers.
"Our thoughts remain with all those affected by this heart-breaking event, especially the family, friends and colleagues of our rail worker, who lost his life in this tragic incident.
"We have cooperated fully with the RAIB throughout their investigation."